Which hunt is that?

Posted on Sat 29 Oct 2011 @ 1.20am UTC

The Daily Post has produced a good, concise post about that vs. which:

The full article is here:

Going on a Which Hunt | Daryl L.L. Houston | The Daily Post | 27 Oct 2011

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Summary of the article

— Many people often use that and which interchangeably, but the two words are not exactly interchangeable.

— People “will use which when that is more appropriate” mainly because of a belief that which seems to have a “more formal or fancy tone” or force of expression.

— Use that for restrictive clauses [dependent clauses].

(A restrictive clause is where a part of the sentence is important to the whole meaning of the sentence. A restrictive clause is therefore highly essential to overall meaning. A missing restrictive clause will change the meaning of the sentence or make it meaningless.)

— Use which for non-restrictive clauses [independent clauses].

(A non-restrictive clause is where a part of the sentence is optional [unimportant] to the whole meaning of the sentence. A missing non-restrictive clause doesn’t change the meaning of the rest of the sentence.)

— Use a comma before and after a which-clause or which-phrase.

— No commas for a that-clause.

— Use of which in restrictive/dependent clauses tends to be more common in written British English than in American English. This is mainly because which is historically more common in British speech for restrictive clauses than in American speech. The British speech influence helps carry which over into writing.

— In nearly all cases, deleting both which and that actually improves sentence structure. Reading your text aloud is a good-enough check whether to use which or that, or leave them out altogether.

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My comments on the article

On what the article ultimately points to:

“This is a good, concise post about that vs. which. But I am a bit saddened by it too — in that so many people STILL haven’t figured out such a basic thing as this — a sad reflection of the state of our education.”

On why ‘which’ is more common in British English:

“I know exactly what your saying. It is true that ‘which’ is more common in dependant clauses in British English than in American English. (I’m a British English speaker, by the way.) In many cases, the so-called American usage is actually correct, mainly because it WAS correct British usage until the British education system completely mashed things up back in the 1960s. Another influence is that ‘which’ is commoner in British speech for dependant clauses than in American speech, so it carries over into writing. But I would have to wonder what kind of writer you had to deal with who never heard this rule.”

On the need for recasting:

The article give two examples:

Vampire bats that don’t drink blood often go hungry.

Vampire bats, which don’t drink blood, often go hungry.

A vampire bat in Peru

Peruvian vampire bat (via Wikipedia)

“Not to put too fine a point on things, those two examples given are in that typical ‘academic’ or grammarbook style of examples — and people endlessly and needlessly go on a rampage of interpreting their meanings because of that. The better deal is just to completely recast them (as I usually do in my editing work) — after ringing the author up to find out exactly what the heck he/she is trying to say. Choice of recasts to fit any bill:

(1) Non-blood-drinking vampire bats often go hungry. (1st example’s meaning)

(2) Vampire bats do not drink blood, and they often go hungry [because of…]. (2nd example’s meaning)

“Broadly speaking, it’s more efficient (and more in keeping with the Anglo-Saxon manner of expression) to lash two independent clauses together with some sort of conjunction rather than shove a dependent/independent clause into the middle of a sentence (as is typical in a Latinate manner of expression). Of course, all this depends on the general style of the writing, as much as on the subject matter. Assuming/presuming the writer was talking about vampire bats as a naturalist, most probably it would be better to go for the more concrete-sounding Anglo-Saxon manner of expression than a Latinate one. Overuse of ‘which’ clauses make for insecure-sounding text. Frankly, we’ve got enough problems trying to understand our clients as human beings without having to figure out their writing as well.”

Helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England.

Anglo-Saxons sound more concrete than the Latins (Photo: Helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship burial, England, image via Wikipedia)

© Learn English or Starve, 2011. Images powered by Zemanta/WordPress.

Posted in: Colour Section